Ok, I must start off by saying that it was a real treat to be in touch with John and have the unique opportunity of posing him a few questions. He was absolutely polite, humble and humorous in his responses. I think it is safe to say he is as dedicated as a mailman when delivering the news: he brings CNN viewers the latest stories come rain, sleet or shine… or lightning!
We wish to sincerely thank him for taking the time to provide us with answers to questions that ranged from war to music. What he had to say will not leave you disappointed. I know I wasn’t.
Now, without further ado…
Question from Julie: What music/band/singers are you into?
John: Julie I am a bit of a freak. Classic rock – from the Who and the Stones to Elvis Costello – is what I grew up on. But I love classical music and the symphony (I need calming) and because of Noah and Hannah I get and (mostly) enjoy my share of Green Day and Fergie and so forth. So I am all over the place.
Question from Joan: After 10 years with CNN, is there anyone that you interview or a job that CNN asks you to do that still makes you nervous?
John: “Every live shot makes me nervous Joan. Some of course more than others. When it is a President or Vice President, the worry is being prepared, yet not so stuck on your notes that you don’t listen and react to what they say. “
“I’m always skittish when it is a tragedy like Katrina or the tsunami – you want to hear the emotions and the horror because it is part of the story, but I worry about exploiting people who are in pain.”
Question from Jeannemarie: What are the top 5 books you would recommend to someone?
John: “My older sister is Jeanne Marie – two words! Like music, I am all over the map Jeanmarie. I love history and recently and belatedly fished David McCullough’s book on John Adams. (meaning I put it down for long spurts several times). I enjoy John Irving (Until I Find You most recently). I am negligent lately but used to love re-reading Shakespeare. Crime and Punishment is a dark classic. Night by Elie Weisel – absolute horror captured in remarkably tight disciplined writing.”
Question from Jeannemarie: What past story would you most like to revisit for a follow-up piece?
John: “I would love to go back to Banda Aceh and try to find some of the people I met after the tsunami and see if they have been able to find at least relative peace. I also am fascinated with the stagnant but critical politics of the Middle East; I spent a lot of time in Saudi Arabia during the first Persian Gulf war and met some would-be reformers who were clearly afraid to do much.”
(Note from Millie: you can read more about Banda Aceh here)
Question from Mary: I really enjoy when you get the opportunity to fill in on The Situation Room and AC360. As a fill-in anchor, how much influence do you have in what stories do or don’t make the broadcast?
John: “My joke Mary is that it takes a special man to be Wolf Blitzer one day and Anderson Cooper the next! Both are wonderful people and gifted journalists and I am lucky to fill in from time to time. As for my influence, it depends on the day and how much lead time I had to plan. (Sometimes I know a month in advance; sometimes a day or less.) You will notice AC360, for example, might be a little more Washington focused when the Washington guy fills in. But it varies depending on the news of the day and how much time I have had to make some suggestions. (I don’t always win!)”
John: “Jeanne, I often if not always disappoint students who think TV news is the end of be all of journalism and ask how can they get my job. I urge them to go to a small town and write for the newspaper or one of the wire services. Learning the basics in a good, competitive setting is the best foundation. I started as an intern with The AP in Providence , RI and it was the best learning experience I could have asked for. Cops and robbers. Courts. Politics.”
Question from Millie: What is your proudest moment as a journalist?
John: “It’s hard Millie to pick one moment because I have been so lucky to have a very varied career in terms of the stories I have covered and places visited, and so so so so so lucky to have had the friendship, mentoring and support of wonderful colleagues. If I had to pick one, I guess it would be my assignment to cover the first Gulf War. I was the first AP reporter sent to Saudi Arabia and ended up building a large operation there at a relatively young age. And we tested the tight military coverage rules as much as we could. I snuck into a town called Khafji one night during a battle and was able to provide some exclusive coverage that made the US military angry because they were not telling the truth about US involvement. It was dicey. A pampers moment. NBC interviewed me a day after I got out of there and my mother saw it (and me talking about the gunfire and grenades) and sent me a short note that still makes me cry, telling me my father would be proud of me, now please come home. ”
Question from Millie: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you while live on the air?
John: “Hmmmmmm. Depends how one defines funny Millie. In my early days I literally sweat through my shirts I was so scared. Wasn’t funny at the time, but it is now! Once at the White House there was a raging thunder and lightning storm and the anchors kept asking me questions. I am told it was half funny half frightening. I am not sure I was funny enough to carry the moment, but I once did the Daily Show from the White House lawn. If you watch at all you know John Stewart fakes it – their “reporters” stand in front of fake backdrops. Well he saw the real deal behind me and we had a good laugh about it. Again, I was a little nervous and so probably not as funny as it should have been.”
John: “I think the most poignant is when the troops talk about young children they barely know because they have been deployed a couple of times. I cant imagine how hard that must be. I finished an hourlong program on military readiness a couple of months ago, and during that project met an Army sergeant named Chris Tucker. He is in Iraq for the third time now despite two feet that need surgergy, failing hearing, and anger and depression issues. He knows he needs help and he has a great wife who is worried to death about him. But he rose from private to sergeant and says with the Army stretched thin he feels he needs to be there for the troops for whom he is responsible, and who count on his experience to keep them safe. More than a half dozen men in his unit have been killed since they went back just a short time ago. Whatever you think of the war, the bravery and dedication of the troops is inspiring. The Tuckers get dinner on me when he gets back, and it wont be soon enough.”